Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Today David Brooks plays absurd equivalence games:

... a few years ago a group of bankers thought they had the magic tool to help them master financial trends and predict the future. Sophisticated risk assessment models would enable them to rewrite the rules and make more money.

Their arrogance was soon exposed. Along came the financial crisis.

In the middle of the crisis another group emerged, believing it had the magic lever to alter the economy's trajectory. Democrats argued that through gigantic deficit spending, they could bring unemployment rates down sharply and produce a "summer of recovery." ...

Now a third group has emerged, also claiming that it has the magic lever to control the economy. Staunch Republicans argue that taxes are central to determining economic growth. Tax cuts, they argue, have huge positive benefits and tax increases have disastrous negative effects....

These three groups -- bankers, Democratic Keynesians and staunch Republicans -- have one thing in common: They all believe they have identified the magic lever. They believe they can control their economic fate.

Some of us do not believe there is a magic lever....

The people in my group (you might call us conservatives) are more likely to embrace a low and steady approach to fiscal policy....

See, if David Brooks were your doctor, and you had a heart attack because you'd stopped eating and spent three days in the house snorting cocaine, he'd tell whoever found you and called 911 not to do CPR because, well, you had the absurdly extreme idea that it was safe to go on a cocaine binge and now there's an equally extreme remedy that involves ... banging on your chest! And it often doesn't work! And even if it does work, it can leave you with cracked ribs! So even though, if it succeeded (as it often does), you wouldn't die and your ribs would heal, and you'd almost certainly die if you didn't get CPR right away, he'd advise against it! Because it's a one-size-fits-all solution -- a "magic lever" for a coronary emergency! And all such extreme, one-size-fits-all magic levers are, by definition, equally (in)valid, by dint of being one-size-fits-all and extreme!

So, sorry you died of that cocaine binge. But you were at least treated conservatively. The ghost of Edmund Burke will mourn at your funeral.


And yes, I know that the real problem with Brooks's description of the stimulus is that it was inadequately large rather than "gigantic," it was not accompanied by genuine mortgage relief (which would have been our other "magic lever"), and no lefty ever said any of this was going to create an insta-recovery -- it just might have softened the shocked and turned us in the right direction.


AND: In a response, Paul Krugman uses a medical analogy of his own:

Stroking your chin and saying, well, I don't believe in magical solutions because experience shows that raising growth is hard sounds serious, but it's actually silly. It's like saying that it's really hard to extend the human lifespan, so it's foolish to believe that an infection can be quickly cured with a dose of antibiotics.


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